The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) held its second annual ‘Lavender’ graduation ceremony Saturday evening in the Student Union Building at Los Angeles City College.
LACCD is the largest community college district in the nation that serves about 230,000 full- and part-time students each year, and has an estimated 10,000 students who self-identify as members of the LGBTQI community. The ‘Lavender’ graduation ceremony was a prelude for approximately 200 graduates embracing celebration of their LGBTQI identities who will also be attending the LACCD’s principal commencement ceremonies Tuesday June 5 at the district’s nine campuses across the LA Metroplex.
Saturday’s keynote speaker was LACCD Board of Trustees’ first openly gay Board member, David Vela.
Vela, the founder of HONOR PAC, (Political Action Committee that supports Latino LGBTQ political candidates), is a long time advocate for free tuition at community colleges, student housing, job training & creation and LGBTQI rights.
“My heart feels really good to see all of you here,” Vela told the graduates and their families. “Congrats to you, the graduates of the class of 2019.”
In his address he noted his background and then told those present that the reason he was attending was because he was just like them, referencing the fact he is an openly gay man.
“We are not the norm- well just not yet,” Vela said. Then he addressed the rise in hate crimes and bigotry since the election of “you know who” as the crowd laughed at his oblique reference to President Trump. Specifically Vela then referenced the deaths of 29 Trans people in 2017 as he continued to refer to Trump as “you know who.” He told the graduates that these were the reasons he is pushing for an LGBTQ “Bill of Rights” to be applied across all nine colleges in the LACCD, a statement met by enthusiastic applause.
Vela recognised Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell 13th District, who was in attendance, for his longtime support of LGBTQI rights. O’Farrell was later introduced noting his status as an openly gay member of LA’s City Council.
Dr. Mary Gallagher, President of LACC spoke of her commitment to diversity and added that “history is made by people who come together to do things that are different. This is the first time in the history of the college that all 9 LACC campuses have come together to have a Lavender graduation.”
The student speaker, Sabrina Smith, spoke to the personal meaning for her as a member of the LGBTQI community to have a ceremony that recognized and celebrates that community. “We the community are finally being seen, heard, acknowledged and celebrated as for far too long we haven’t.” She added that the LGBTQI students make up a significant amount of the total student body, faculty, and staff. She then gave her personal story and experiences as a student and the importance of visibility on college campuses.
O’Farrell congratulated the class of 2019 and then called on a round of applause in recognition of the family members of the graduates for their support. “At the end of the day, it is the allies and our family members who are supportive,” he said adding, “who really keep our spirits up.”
O’Farrell noted that the LGBTQI community “builds our own families. but it is especially blessed when it also happens to be our biological families.”
Many of the students left feeling inspired. A transwoman who identified herself at Sheila but would not give a last name, said her journey had changed because of LACCD’s free-tuition program. “I pulled myself off the streets because of this program. I realized I have potential.” Joseph Patterson, pictured above with Director of Institutional Advancement Michael D. Fuller and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said he was “proud of the opportunity to excel.” And, he, added, “I plan to pursue advanced degrees in Addiction and Counseling and that’s something this college has made possible for me.”